In my conversations with TY alumni, many of whom now send their own kids to TY, I am frequently asked, “What’s it like to go back?” That is nearly always followed by the inevitable questions regarding what has changed and what has remained the same?
At a superficial level, the questions are easy to answer.
It’s weird (at first) being back, but nonetheless wonderful. For me it has been extra special spending time with my own kids there and re-experience camp through them.
The physical state of camp is largely the same it has been for decades with the notable exceptions of a phenomenal aquatic center (funded almost entirely through alumni), a tremendous ropes course/climbing walls area, a dance pavilion and a few new moadonim (indoor meeting spaces) here and there.
And while both the songs in shira and dances in rikud are far more modern, the ruach associated with both remain the same.
By far the biggest difference between now and “then” is the staff. Conservatively, I’d say there are three times the number of staff per chanich (camper) today than there were a generation ago. While this fact is certainly a reflection of changing attitudes and regulations about supervising young people, it also is a testament to the number of specialty areas in camp that did not exist before and now being led by professional, trained staff.
But the secret of TY cannot be found in either the facilities or the staff (wonderful as they are). What makes TY such a tremendous and unique experience for Jewish teenagers from around the globe is the community that is built each summer. A community that welcomes and respects all. A community that encourages challenging each member’s assumptions about their own Jewish identity. A community that embraces diversity in so many ways. A community that allows for myriad interpretations of Zionism and expressions of belonging to the Jewish people. A community that is safe for a teenage demographic that so often is not.
This concept of a unique teenage oriented Jewish and Zionist community was what made TY so special throughout the decades of the 20th century and remains true today. While specific components of community have changed, the overall magic remains the same.
So, what’s it really like to go back to TY? That sense of community means it’s simply like coming home.
Mike Lasday is the President of the Tel Yehudah Board of Directors. Mike attended TY as a chanich from 1978-1980 and served on the tsevet in 1984. His wife, Karen, attended Tel Yehudah from 1981-1982. Mike's daughter, Frances, was a chanicha 2009-2010 and tsevet member 2012-2014 and his son, Josh, attended as a chanich 2012-2013.